Why we should be concerned about ongoing conflict in DRC

KDF troops deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo on November 12, 2022. [KDF, Standard]

If you have ever bought a packet of njugu (peanuts/groundnuts) in the streets of Nairobi recently, it was probably sold to you by a Congolese hawker. If you live in Nairobi and you shave in estate barbershops, you have probably come across a Congolese barber.

There are many Congolese living silently in Kenya and probably many are on the way because of the recent conflict in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are searching for a better life and believe it or not, Kenya is the East African country where they see the most opportunity.

On the other hand, Kenya has decided to send its troops to Eastern Congo under the East African Community Standby Force. The Kenyan soldiers arrived in Congo mid last month. President William Ruto described the mission as “necessary and urgent”.

"As neighbours, the destiny of DRC is intertwined with ours," he said. "We will not allow any armed groups, criminals, and terrorists to deny us our shared prosperity."

Is shared prosperity another way of saying that our interest in Congo is much more than just stabilising it? Let’s explore some reasons why Kenya and Kenyans cannot look away from what’s happening in Congo.

According to a World Vision report, Congo has a total of 5.6 million internally displaced people. Since October 2022, over 100,000 have been added to that list. Some already displaced families are fleeing for their lives again, with almost nothing. This follows the recent attacks by March 23 movement (M23) rebels. People are surviving under trees, in school classrooms and churches, with near to zero support. They lack food to eat, clean water to drink, almost no change of clothes.

The report says the need is huge and growing, yet help is only trickling. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Goma recently and couldn’t believe what he witnessed. His words were heavy with concern and empathy. He called on the armed groups to immediately stop fighting.

Kenya’s growing involvement in DRC security comes at a time when business interests have also increased. KCB Group and Equity have acquired majority stakes in two of DRC’s three largest banks.

DRC’s entry into the East African Community has created interest of regional businesses in the lucrative market of the second largest country in Africa. In 2021, a business delegation of over 200 investors and business participants visited four cities in DRC on a trade mission. The business networking initiative was organised by the Kenya and DRC governments in partnership with Equity Group.

Uganda and Rwanda are mentioned in many reports concerning their roles in destabilising Congo. When the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) reported an increase of gold exports by 754.6 per cent in 2020, the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts raised concerns about the source of their gold.

Rwanda's gold enters the international market through the UAE. In 2018 Rwanda reported gold exports of 2,163kg to the UAE while the UAE declared imports of 12,539kg from Rwanda, a discrepancy that couldn’t go unnoticed and was called out by the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts. The experts identified Rwanda as a smuggling route for stolen minerals from the DRC.

According to the Canadian conflict minerals research group IMPACT, gold is smuggled from the Kivu regions of DRC to Rwanda and is then sent to Dubai.

Is it possible for Rwanda to smuggle DRC’s minerals and not be involved in the conflict there? Should it concern Kenya that one of EAC’s member states is involved in DRC like that?

One of rebel groups operating in eastern Congo is Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a jihadi Islamic terror group with links to ISIS. They conduct raids in North Eastern Congo near the border of Uganda.

In January 2022, a Kenyan terror suspect, Salim Rashid Mohamed alias Chotara, who had jumped bail in Mombasa was arrested by Congolese forces in Beni, Eastern Congo after he killed a Congolese civilian. He was fighting for the ADF.

Mohamed is reported to have recruited youths in Mombasa and planned their logistics to DRC by getting them temporary jobs as turn boys for trucks destined to DRC. Young men from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda have also been reported to be fighting for ADF in Beni.

After his arrest, Kenya wanted Mohamed extradited from DRC to face terror charges but it’s not clear where he is now. But to most Congolese, the ADF is just another scheme by its oppressors to destabilise the country, control land and exploit their minerals. Kenya should be concerned when its people are part of those being used to kill and displace innocent civilians in DRC.

In the documentary ‘Crisis In The Congo, Uncovering The Truth’ Maurice Carney, co-founder of Friends of the Congo says, “If you're concerned about climate change, you should be concerned about Congo. Half of the six million who have died as a result of the conflict in DRC are children under five years. If you're concerned about children, you should be concerned about Congo. If you're concerned about women, if you have a mother or a sister, you have to be concerned about what's happening in Congo.”

“If you drive a car or fly in an aeroplane or own a cellphone, as a human being, at the very least you have to be concerned, you have to say something, you have to ask why this is happening, you have to be moved to bring an end to it.”

If none of these reasons move you as a Kenyan, then be concerned because the Congolese are human beings who deserve dignity, peace and self-determination like others. And when you pray, remember the Congolese.

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